Mice and Mystics: Review

Players 1- 4

Cooperative

Published by Plaid Hat Games

Do you often find that the theme of many games is lost within their intricate mechanisms? Is the story largely an irrelevance, playing second fiddle to the cut and thrust of game mechanics? Is the glossy artwork nothing more than a thin veneer stretched over slick game design? For your narrative kicks, are you having to resort to the bewilderingly complex world of RPGs or – God forbid – the videogames market? Fear not, Mice and Mystics is the game you’ve been looking for!

Mice and Mystics is a rare beast, blending smooth game design into an immersive experience where the story is king. At first the premise (or premice?) might not seem too appealing, but very quickly you’ll find yourself beguiled by the characters and their adventures. Prince Collin, locked in a dungeon by an evil witch, must rescue his kingdom from darkness. To do this he must escape by turning himself irreversibly into a mouse with the aid of a wizard’s magic. Not to be outdone, the witch turns her own ‘minions’ into nasty Rat Guards to hunt Prince Collin and his companions down.

‘Other hazards you’ll need to contend with are mousetraps, one-eyed crows and greedy cockroaches intent on stealing your cheese…’

Each adventure takes place on a series of satisfyingly chunky tiles representing such fantasy classics as sewers, guard rooms, courtyards and kitchen worktops. Each tile is reversible, cleverly representing the interior or exterior of a previous environment. In the first ‘Chapter’ Collin and his buddies, having defeated their jailers, climb through a grate in the floor. No problem! Turn over the tile and… uh oh… you’re gasping for air and scrabbling to pull you and your party out of the rush of sewer water. Other hazards you’ll need to contend with are mousetraps, one-eyed crows and greedy cockroaches intent on stealing your cheese. Each challenge serves to keep the action fresh, but also forces players to work together to overcome the odds, all the while battling to keep the ‘minions’ at bay.

Sounds frantic doesn’t it? Add to this a ‘Minion Clock’ that turns inexorably, threatening a rush of minion reinforcements and another ominous page turn in the narrative track. If Prince Collin and his pals fail to achieve their objectives before this reaches ‘The End’ the game is lost. To succeed, a careful balance must be struck; reckless haste results in characters quickly becoming ‘captured,’ but by the same token, risk averse players will find that the narrative track will outpace them, throwing all manner of nasty minions in their path.

To succeed, each mouse must  be used carefully, playing to their strengths and supporting the whole crew. The archetypes are familiar, albeit in mousey form: Prince Collin is a handy warrior, dishing out plentiful attacks and able to use his command abilities to boost his friends; Nez is a tank, laying down damage with his trusty hammer,  a useful mouse to have around when big nasties need squishing; Tilda is a healer, but also uses her empathetic nature to become more powerful when allies are in a bad way; Filch is a… a scamp. Nimble and light fingered, he can be depended upon to scurry rapidly from A to B performing vital tasks. As the adventure continues, missions often force players to change their play style in order to achieve objectives, such as dashing forwards to save a potential ally from a mousetrap.

Few things are more satisfying than when Nez flattens the big nasty with his hammer!

This immersive experience is augmented by the impressive components and it is clear that the designers understood the need for players to enjoy the tactile feel of this game. Everything in the box is chunky and oddly satisfying; granted, the miniatures are not a pinch on the output of say, Games Workshop, but they’re lovely nonetheless – the mice are suitably heroic and the baddies are dastardly and icky in equal measure. They’re solid too, and will tolerate the administrations of younger or ham-fisted players without the need for worrying about breakages. Even the more spindly miniatures, such as the mighty millipede, will stand up to wear and tear, as well as making you shudder just to look at it and even more reluctant to touch the damn thing… Yes, few things are more satisfying than when Nez flattens the big nasty with his hammer!

Don’t be fooled by the cutesy appearance of this game – it’s tough and elegant. One wrong misstep or a foolish move and you and your fellow mice will be in hot water. Plaid Hat Games have captured the feel of a band of heroes up against the odds, whilst sticking to a beautifully realised theme and fun narrative. Even if you manage to finish this game, the experience is such that you will want to introduce others, perhaps taking on the role of another mouse in the party, trying out some of the more esoteric equipment, or embarking on one of the many side-quests littered throughout the campaign.

In the years since its release, Mice and Mystics has won a great many accolades for its achievements and they are certainly well deserved. In a market where too often theme and story is merely window dressing, Mice and Mystics proves that the successful integration of story and gameplay makes for one of the best experiences out there.

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Blackstone Fortress: Review

pic4406366Players: 1-5

Cooperative 

Blackstone  – come for the archeotech, stay for the adventure! 

The resurgence of the tabletop games market has certainly not gone unnoticed by the giant that is GamesWorkshop; after relinquishing their IP with Fantasy Flight, they have waded in with blockbuster titles such as The Silver Tower, Necromunda and Warhammer Underworlds, games that combine immersive game mechanics with GamesWorkshop’s customary flair for jaw-dropping aesthetics.

Blackstone Fortress encapsulates this approach, but takes it a little further. The contents are impeccable; from the chunky card stock to the illustrated booklets, there is a sense of pride and passion that has gone into the design, and that is to say nothing of the miniatures. Here we have a collection of protagonists and antagonists that are a triumph of imagination and skill, but also scratch a special itch for fans of the Warhammer 40,000 universe.

Delving deep into the eldritch abyssal chambers of the Blackstone Fortress, an ancient behemoth of unknown origin, are a plucky band of heroes and anti-heroes. Many of these characters have revealed themselves from the fringes of the lore to seek archeotech, each for their own peculiar purposes.

Roll Call!

  • a swashbuckling Rogue Trader;
  • a robot with Abominable Intelligence;
  • a space bishop and his follicly challenged flaming chainsword wielding companion;
  • a pair of light fingered halfling snipers;
  • a Navigator with a great hat;
  • a pair of Xenos – a Kroot Carnivore; and
  • an Aeldari Ranger, who believes the Blackstone might just be the key to saving her dying world.

Docking their craft to Precipice (a villainous hive of flotsam and space-jetsam) players strike out on perilous expeditions into the Blackstone Fortress, intent on treasure and unlocking the secrets within.

“Expect to be assailed by Chaos Beastmen, warp-wielding Rogue Psykers and (naturally) 10,000 year old super soldiers”

Waiting inside are a terrifying conglomeration of hostiles. Representing the first tier of enemies are Traitor Guardsmen, fell soldiers bedecked in animal fur and scavenged armour, and the freaky Negavolt Cultists. They are not to be sniffed at. The initiative track randomly determines which explorers or hostiles get to act. If it looks bad, players can perform a ‘gambit’ to move themselves to a more advantageous position. Players must also support one another with overwatch, use cover and make the most of their unique abilities to thwart the tide of evil that sneaks, charges, aims or onslaughts, depending on the will of the Blackstone Dice that acts as the game’s internal intelligence. Each of the explorers’ vessels can also offer remote support to give your explorer the edge, offering nifty things, like a targeting matrix (a cheeky re-roll), for when you really need them.

Having overcome these odds, players gratefully return to Precipice, presumably for a few restorative beverages, but primarily to heal, augment themselves with weaponry, bionics and all manner of bonkers equipment that one might expect from the Grim Darkness of the Far Future.

Players can also combine their intel to determine the location of a Stronghold, one of a number of particularly nasty zones within the Blackstone that might just hold the answers they are looking for. By this point, expect to be assailed by Chaos Beastmen, warp-wielding Rogue Psykers and (naturally) 10,000 year old super soldiers. At the head of all of them is Obsidius Mallex, the Black Legion commander. He would like to alleviate some of his frustration at being marooned inside this alien labyrinth. Yes he would. With his giant hammer.

“Players can oscillate between congratulating themselves for implementing surefire tactics… and finding themselves in a galactic mother-load of bother”

It will take more than tactics and resources for an intrepid band to make it through. The ‘inspiration’ mechanic enables your explorer to go into a kind of overdrive. Once activated, turn over your explorer’s card to find a whole new bunch of stats, buffing them considerably. The only question is, do you activate your inspiration now, or hold on to it until you really need it?

The element of uncertainty makes these kind of decisions commonplace, with the Blackstone throwing all kinds of curveballs your way. For example: In the event phase the Blackstone might determine that you won’t be getting any Destiny Dice (an important dice pool that can turn things in your favour), then suddenly that smouldering pile of enemies gets reinforcements! In this way, players can oscillate between congratulating themselves for implementing surefire tactics and finding themselves in a galactic mother-load of bother! One moment you’ll have a grip on the situation: laying traps, denying hexes with flaming promethean and keeping enemies at bay with a succession of critical sniper shots, the next you’ll be smarting from grievous wounds, leaping to your fellow explorers’ aid and bundling KO’d friends into the Maglift with frantic abandon. Alternatively, you might suddenly realise that your own objectives take precedence over the safety of one of your new found companions – he is a xeno/robot/mutant/lunatic after all…

Blackstone Fortress doesn’t have the same sense of story as Warhammer Quest: The Silver Tower – at no point will you find yourself taking on the role of a grand-eloquent narrator to drive the story onward, but there is no need. Blackstone Fortress is cinematic, gritty and bombastic enough to forego any need for players to resort to text. Who could forget when the Kroot Tracker leapt to Pious Vorne’s aid when the Traitor Sergeant charged burning through the cordon? Or when Amallyn Shadowguide risked all to allow her companions to escape a pack of hungry Ur-Ghuls?

All of these moments contribute to a great experience and one that, even after a several late nights and many hours of happy gaming with friends, we have yet to complete. The secret envelope remains unopened and with it, presumably, the secrets of the Blackstone Fortress.